Monday, October 28, 2013

 

Never Let the Critics Stop You From Shining

The default tendency for most people is to not intentionally disturb other people, to go with the flow instead of making waves--but this kind of safe approach is rejected by dynamic individuals who have big thoughts and dreams that cannot be contained or stifled. In The Plus Side of Pissing People Off, Tim Ferriss declares that nothing great can be accomplished without upsetting somebody:

Doing anything remotely interesting will bring criticism. Attempting to do anything large-scale and interesting will bring armies of detractors and saboteurs. This is fine--if you are willing to take the heat.

There are good reasons to be willing, even eager.

Colin Powell makes the case: pissing people off is both inevitable and necessary. This doesn’t mean that the goal is pissing people off. Pissing people off doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things, but doing the right things will almost inevitably piss people off.

Understand the difference.  As Mr. Powell has put it, "Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off."

Mr. Spock expressed a similar sentiment in the classic Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within," noting that when a transporter malfunction split Captain James Kirk into a "good" version and a "bad" version it became clear that the "bad" version--the version that did not care what other people think--is an essential aspect of what made Kirk so decisive and effective: "And what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see here indications that it's his negative side which makes him strong, that his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength."

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Monday, October 21, 2013

 

Exploiting Chaos

Jeremy Gutsche's 2009 book Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change provides practical advice about how to thrive when life seems like a maelstrom of uncertainty. Soundview Executive Book Summaries offers this take on Gutsche's work:

"Chaos is the uncertainty sparked by uncharted territory, economic recession and bubbles of opportunity. Chaos causes organizations to retreat, but not always.

Did you know that Hewlett-Packard, Disney, Hyatt, MTV, CNN, Microsoft, Burger King and GE all started during periods of economic recession? Periods of uncertainty fuel tremendous opportunity, but they also reshuffle the deck and change the rules of the game."

Here are some of Gutsche's key concepts:

1) "The upbeat impact of crisis is that competitors become mediocre and the ambitious find ways to grow." Gutsche cites the example of the Kellogg Company, which thrived during the Great Depression and seized the cereal market from once-dominant Post. Post rested on their laurels during the economic slowdown, while Kellogg doubled their advertising budget and convinced consumers that Kellogg products were superior to Post products.

2) "Innovation is not about market timing. It is about creating something that fulfills an unmet need." Does it sound like a good idea to launch an expensive magazine during the middle of the Great Depression? Henry Luce thought that it did and because Fortune filled an "unmet need"--affording readers a unique opportunity to understand how the corporate world functions--his new magazine became a huge success.

3) "The time to act is always now." Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Pat Riley once wrote about "paralysis by analysis," the tendency to get so caught up in trying to perfectly determine what to do that one ends up doing nothing at all. Gutsche declares, "You don't need to have everything figured out. Colloquially, chaos is synonymous with stress and disorder, but this doesn't have to be true. By knowing that you can adapt, and by seizing the opportunity presented by chaos, you can avoid being trampled and step away from the herd."

4) "Successful ideas first require excessive testing and experimental failure." Thomas Edison put it best when he described the process of inventing the light bulb: "I have not failed 1000 times. I have successfully discovered 1000 ways to not make a light bulb."

5) "Chaos should not be tempered with structure, it should be harnessed with ideology." A spider cannot survive if its arms are ripped off but if a starfish's arms are ripped off then each arm becomes a new starfish; the difference is that a spider has a centralized nervous system, while a starfish has a decentralized nervous system. Many groups--ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to various terrorist networks--have figured out the power of being decentralized, held together not by an inflexible organizational template but only by a shared belief/ideology. Gutsche quotes Rod Beckstrom and Odi Brafman, authors of The Starfish and the Spider and coiners of a rule that they call The Power of Chaos: "Starfish systems are wonderful incubators for creative, destructive, innovative or crazy ideas. Anything goes. Good ideas will attract more people, and in a circle, they'll execute the plan. Institute order and rigid structure, and while you may achieve standardization, you'll also squelch creativity. Where creativity is valuable, learning to accept chaos is a must."

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Friday, October 11, 2013

 

The Biggest Small Word in the English Language: If

Two of my favorite poems begin with the biggest small word in the English language: If. Any dream can be shaped into reality, any goal can be achieved--if a person is focused, determined and relentless.

E.E. Cummings' "if up's the word" opens with this upbeat stanza:

if up's the word;and a world grows greener
minute by second and most by more-
if death is the loser and life is the winner
(and beggars are rich but misers are poor)
-let's touch the sky:
with a to and a fro
(and a here there where)and away we go


Those carefree words exhort the reader to believe that "up's the word," that the world is growing greener (becoming rich with life) and that all of us can "touch the sky" (reach our own personal heaven, either in a spiritual sense or by achieving our secular goals) regardless of our financial status.

Rudyard Kipling's "If" challenges the reader to brace himself against the harshness of a cold, unforgiving world; the first stanza sets the tone:

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise

Two lines from Kipling's poem resonate so deeply that they are posted prominently above the players' entrance to Wimbledon's hallowed Centre Court:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same

Cummings' poem seems to articulate a generalized life philosophy but, though that may also appear to be true of Kipling's "If," a specific incident inspired Kipling's verse. Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, with the full but covert support of the British government, led an 1896 raid into Dutch-controlled Transvaal with the goal of inspiring the British citizens there to overthrow the Boer regime. The raid failed and the British government abandoned Jameson, who was sentenced to 15 months in jail by the British authorities for supposedly acting against the country's wishes (Jameson was pardoned a few months after the trial and thus did not serve the full term). Jameson never publicly discussed how the British government betrayed him, earning Kipling's praise in these memorable lines:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss

That is exactly what Jameson did; after being released from jail, he became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in South Africa, serving in that role from 1904-1908. He later acted as the leader of the Unionist Party in South Africa from 1910-12.

Kipling's poem concludes with this coda:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Life is filled with challenges and each of our lives are populated by people who disappoint us in word and deed, so it is important to remember that Only Thoughts and Actions Can be Controlled, Not Outcomes: Triumph and Disaster are indeed imposters and all that matters is to follow Kipling's advice to not waste one second of each "unforgiving minute."

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

 

Brill's Content Exposed the "Fuzzy Math" in GQ's Turn of the Century Men of the Year Awards

Brill's Content only existed from 1998-2001 but during that brief period the magazine fulfilled its mandate to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Some might consider it unwise to challenge those who buy ink--and/or bandwidth--by the barrel but Steven Brill and his capable staff never shied away from calling out the liars, the hypocrites and those who are just incompetent.

The February 2001 issue included an article by Kaja Perina titled "Men of the Year: GQ's Fuzzy Math." Perina noted that GQ declared to their readers, "Who said no one ever listens to you? We listen. So tell us: Who should be GQ's Men of the Year?" Perina wryly commented, "The answer appears to be whoever agrees to show up."

GQ's awards were presented on a show televised by the Fox network, so GQ preferred to give the honors to celebrities who agreed to participate in the telecast--regardless of how the reader voting actually turned out. Perina reported that an anonymous source with the L.A. Lakers said that when Phil Jackson was one of the Men of the Year in 1998 but declined to appear on the show the magazine gave him the honor in absentia--but when Jackson won again in 2000 and snubbed the telecast for a second time, GQ gave the award to Doc Rivers instead.

GQ spokeswoman Kathleen Madden admitted that the magazine not only elevated second place finisher Rivers ahead of the winner Jackson but that in the "Individual Athlete" category the runner-up Pete Sampras took home the hardware after the champion Tiger Woods declined to show up.

GQ editor Arthur Cooper did not see the problem with asking readers for their votes and then ignoring their choices: "You can't give an award to someone who doesn't want it. It's a nice award, but is it an Oscar? I'd like to think so, but I'm not fooling myself." Actually, you can give an award to someone even if the honoree declines to be on the TV show--and, as mentioned above, that is exactly what GQ did with Phil Jackson in 1998.

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